CHAPTER 6 – Waking Up 1962-64
One Step at a Time
In a little Methodist Church in Stoke, Nelson, Aubynne’s home town, we married. Brenda was bridesmaid, Trevor, best man. Back in Christchurch, we had an extended honeymoon renting a magnificent ex-ballroom flat in Church Lane. Eleanor Cachemaille a friend of Lesley, Aubynne’s sister, handed us this little gem of a lease as she shifting back to Nelson. But, I needed regular work and applied to the NZ Railways department in Christchurch and they fell over me to place me as a junior officer – totally over-qualified, but I knew Maths. Good pay and prospects to be a stationmaster, but we would have to live in Timaru.
Timaru Railways Parcels Clerk
Until Simon was born in August, I struggled with clerical work, with the cold Timaru winter of 1962, and with poverty. I gradually became familiar with New Zealand Railways culture. The railways network was a source of life for tens of thousands of Railways people spread across the country. The steam passenger and freight trains were still the main form of transport and a huge independent nation-wide communications link. Families lived in Railways houses, Railways men drank with Railways men, and the Railways union was the strongest union in the country. When Labour ministers Douglas and Prebble sold the Railways in New Zealand in 1985 it was the biggest cultural revolution in our country. I found the work frustrating threading a path through the demarcation lines between the work of the union and the officers – I was straddled between the two.
Escape to Christchurch
Timaru was a nightmare for Aubynne. Poor. No friends. Very cold. Pregnant. Toxaemia. Lonely. Friends visited at times and Aubynne’s mother, Mavis, was a great help in August at Simon Peter’s birth. Alec Saunders (RIP), who I had met over Capping Day antics, kindly kept a brotherly interest in us. Our friendship grew in strength over many years to come.
One reminder of Timaru we carried with us for 40 years: a console electric heater which we bought after Simon was born.
By the end of the winter, we got good news from friends: there was a vacancy in the Reading Room of The Press newspaper in Christchurch. I had only to apply. I did and things started to look up at once. I was paid 11 pounds a week. We rented a house at 28 Swanns Rd, Stanmore for 4 pounds a week.
Aubynne settled into domestic life caring for Simon, managed the finances with her little jars of shillings for each of our expenses. There it was that she established her first garden and lawns. My pay was the lowest possible and not enough to save for any future expenses. Aubynne held us all together: so while I had the day hours off, she managed all by working at horrible day jobs such as aide at Sunnyside Mental Hospital or supervising bad, very bad juvenile delinquent girls.
Simon proved to be an ideal child: warm, affectionate, quiet and healthy.
Copyholder to Proofreader
The Reading Room at the Christchurch Press newspaper required me to work at night from 6pm to 2pm as a copyholder. My boss was the kindest old gentleman, Mr Gillespie, who smoked a pipe, was the soul of discretion and humility, and took pity on me, and I soon had the honoured position as his copyholder. It was a most interesting smoke-filled place. The proofreaders were the professionals; the low-paid copyholders were a mixed bunch: ex-students, students, alcoholics, or those working double jobs, and some became media celebrities in the future. In between proofs, there were sometimes gaps of 5 to 10 minutes. Discussion ranged across all areas of life. Students wrote their essays; others played chess; some argued the issues of the day. One learnt to spell, to read quickly and precisely, to note the Style, to note errors of fact across a huge range of subjects. In terms of hours of work it felt like a late night out, rather than a night shift. As time went by I became a proofreader, joined The Press Provident Fund, and worked my way up the journalist salary scale for the next 10 years. This job enabled me to re-enroll in part-time and full-time degree studies as the years went by.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
One memorable event was the way the Cuban missile crisis affected the nights in the Press gallery of us all: reporters, journalists and proof-readers. The news in those days came through the old teletype machines which typed out directly news from overseas media. During the crisis, we all surrounded the teletype anxiously awaiting for the end of the world to come: “tap. tap. tap…Russian ships 100 miles from Cuba tap.. tap..tap..”
In between reading proofs, many nights were slow, and there was a 5 to 10min pause between one’s turn at reading a proof. During that time many did their university assignments, while others read books. A few of us took up chess. Word spread of these games and an expert chess player – the commercial editor entered our hallowed abode. He was a largish Dutchman and immediately took me on! But in an instructive manner, teaching me how to play properly and gave me a book of openings to follow. We played the same opening over and over until I was able to make him play with more seriousness. At last, I managed to win one game against him. During that match we drew a large crowd quietly cheering me on.
About the same time, the Fischer-Spassky match occurred. It drew our interest and the results of the games came through the tap..tap.. of the teletype. After the final result I was able to buy an first air-delivered book of the matches.
Some proofreaders became sub-editors and secured their own feature pages; others stayed on until women’s liberation and the digital revolution arrived and the Reading Room disappeared.
And I met again old school friends from university, Barry Mountjoy, engineering, and Allan Barker, science, who encouraged me to buy a motorbike – a 1955 BSA 650cc Gold Flash – British bikes were de rigeur for engineering and science students. It needed new rings and the oil refused to flow back into the sump – I had bought a lemon. I had to strip it down, repair the engine, and put it back together again. Then I had to drill out a bung in the crankcase which was fused into the metal. With some plastic glue I was able to rejoin the crankcase parts. Somehow it all worked.
And we managed to save, especially with Aubynne working as a cleaner. She renewed friendships. Many were getting married: Judy and Peter from the West Coast; Brenda and John, Jeanette and John, Barry and Heather, Alec and Beth and Brian and Heather.
One day, Aubynne sent me to buy a radio. I came back with an impulsive stereo set on hire purchase. But, it was the first portable stereo hi-fi unit in the world: a Philips 2.5 watt amp, speakers and turntable. It lasted us many years, and through many parties. And friends managed to add a radio tuner.
For most of 1963 and 1964 we snuggled into the security of a warm cave taking a breath from the hectic pace over the past two years. Pure Maths I was relatively easy second time around and I could see where I thought Maths was going. I passed well and looked forward to taking Pure Maths II in 1964. I also wished to explore Church History which was part of the Religious Studies department, so that too became a goal for 1965.
Over those years we developed a friendship with John Hamilton, who was a senior proofreader. John was a melodramatic, very well-read Melbournean-exile, an alcoholic, a man distraught with self-disgust and yet warmly enjoyed our company. He lived in a little house in Sydenham with his collection of over 12 dogs, in squalor. He would delight in pushing Simon’s big maroon perambulator and waxing forth on the injustices of life, while a little pug and his favourite bulldog paddled along. He was always there for us, in good times and bad. When we shifted to the suburbs and when the Reading Room became more respectable he disappeared into a very lonely existence and had a sad early death. R.I.P, dear John.
We took in boarders to help pay the rent: firstly, there was an alcoholic separated man, and then he recommended us to the alcoholic spinster who gave us a magnificent Catholic family bible, and then pregnant Bardi came to stay with us. Bardi was from Nelson. Unmarried mum, Dot, became our housekeeper and looked after the boys when Aubynne was working. Our last boarder was a young lost man soon gaoled for manslaughter.